Addressing plastic pollution, raising wolves for reproductive success, images of the mosquito heart to advance malaria research, mapping whale habitats and acoustics to visualize obstructions in whale communication, the potential environmental impact of space tourism and sloth anatomy to understand the evolution of mammal backbones. Here is news in ecology from the month of October.
Permanency of plastic: In a recent TED video (above), Dianna Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition addresses the current status on worldwide plastic production and pollution, and she encourages consumers to use alternative materials, drink less bottled water and consider sustainability when purchasing containers. Read more at “Dianna Cohen: Tough truths about plastic pollution.”
Wolf nannies: In a study published last week in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, researchers examined the effects of non-breeding wolves that help raise pups, also called nannies, on reproductive success later in life. Dave Mosher explained in Wired Science that “…nannied females grew up smaller but enjoyed reproductive lifespans nearly double that of non-nannied she-wolves. Males cared for by pack members outside of their parents grew bigger than other pups, yet their sex lives were almost halved.” Read more at “Wolf Nannies Shorten Sex Lives of Male Pups.”
Mosquito heart: Sarah Zielinksi of Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog described the basics of a mosquito heart—complete with a fluorescent photo that won the Nikon Small World photography competition—in a recent post. “A mosquito’s heart isn’t like ours,” she said. “For one, it pumps a clear liquid called hemolymph, usually towards the head but sometimes in the opposite direction. The heart takes up around two-thirds of the insect’s entire circulatory system, which is just a long tube that runs from its head to its tail.” According to the article, the images could be used to further research on the spread of malaria. Read more at “Inside a Mosquito’s Heart.”
Mapping acoustics: According to research published by scientists at Scripps Whale Acoustic Lab, “anthropogenic ocean noise levels have risen markedly—doubling every decade for the past 50 years,” wrote Elizabeth Grossman in a recent Scientific American article. The scientists attributed the recent increase in noise pollution to a spike in the volume of shipping traffic and offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration. Wrote Grossman, “This finding is startling to scientists who study cetaceans and other marine life, as it is becoming clearer that whales rely heavily on the integrity of their acoustic habitat.” Read more at “Noise Reduces Ocean Habitat for Whales” and see the above video of obstructions in whale acoustics due to human activity.
Space travel and the environment: Companies like Virgin Galactic are making space tourism possible for consumers worldwide; however the price is hefty on both the customer’s wallet and possibly on the environment. As David Shiga wrote in a New Scientist article, “Space tourism could have major consequences for Earth’s climate. New computer simulations suggest soot emitted by the rockets could raise temperatures at the poles, significantly reducing seasonal ice cover there.” The article mentions, however, that there are still uncertainties. Read more at “Space tourism could have big impact on climate.”
Also, small fish get bolder as predators decline, designers help to visualize data, compiling climate change evidence, how flies pump fluids when they drink, lions and people living together, aggressive male cichlids propel diversity, the sloth has rib-cage bones in its neck, hemp as biodiesel and how the king cobra measures up to other snakes.